Changing Turkish-Russian Relations

Small Logo By: Paul Antonopoulos – CSS Project Director;  MENA and Latin America Research Fellow

Changing Turkish-Russian Relations

Turkey appears unable to grasp Russia’s resolve and long-term planning 


printable-letter-englishtowne-november 24 2015 will forever mark the turning in Turkish and Russian relations. The Russian Sukhoi Su-24M tactical bomber jet was shot down by two Turkish F-16 Fighting Falcon jets. The Russian bomber was conducting sorties upon the request from Damascus. Despite Putin immediately calling for Turkey’s military attaché in Moscow, Ankara had refused to apologise for the downing of the jet. The attack resulted in a pilot being shot down by Turkmen Islamists who was parachuting to land, and a Russian commando also killed in the rescue operation for the second pilot. Putin in speaking with the Hashemite King Abdullah II of Jordan, described the attack as a ‘stab in the back, carried out against us by accomplices of terrorists.’


With this aggression, Turkey quickly called for an emergency summit with NATO, and without surprise, NATO came to the defence of its member stating Turkey had a right to defend its sovereignty. Of course, this naturally overlooked that Turkey regularly violated Syrian airspace. More disturbing is that in 2014 alone, Turkey had violated Greece’s airspace 2,244 times. Greece is a fellow NATO member to Turkey. The hypocrisy continues when one considers that Turkey stated in June 22 that Syria should not have downed an F-4 Phantom reconnaissance jet that violated Syrian airspace for a short time.

However, Russia demonstrated restraint by not seeking military revenge, but rather imposed economic sanctions that are set to cost the Turkish economy to the tune of $9 billion every year. Turkish manufacturing, tourism and farming are all set to stall. Ankara’s rationale to the attack must be questioned as Turkey has only lost more than it has gained from the attack.

The next day after the downing of the Russian jet, Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that the impressive S-400 mobile air defence system will be deployed to Russia’s Khmeimim Airbase in Latakia province. The missile system is the most advanced kind in the world and covers all of Syria, Cyprus and Lebanon and large parts of Jordan and Turkey. The Russian Aerospace Defence Forces then announced that Russian bombers will be accompanied by fighter jets and equipped with air-to-air missiles. Soon the Russian Navy deployed a missile cruiser to the Syrian coast which has already begun targeting terrorist targets in Syria. On December 11, during a meeting with Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff Valery Gerasimov, Putin vowed that the Russian military will “immediately destroy» any hostile player threatening Russian operations in Syria.”

Putin then said on 17 December that Russia will not stop its military campaign in Syria as Turkey would have hoped. “Ankara thought we would flee Syria! No, Russia is not a country to act like that. We increased our presence in Syria; we increased the strength of our air forces. There were no anti-aircraft weapon systems there before – now there is the S-400. Turkey used to violate Syrian airspace on a regular basis, now let’s see them fly there,” he said. This bravado by Putin only demonstrates that the downing of the Russian jet has only galvanised Moscow and provided the pretext to further Russian military involvement in the Syrian War. The installation of the S-400 missile system, bomber jets equipped with air-to-air missiles, missile cruisers in the Mediterranean, only occurred after the destruction of the Russian jet. These escalations only compliment the announcement that Russia will be operating a second airbase in Homs province.


Most revealing has been Russia exposing the ISIS-Turkey oil trade. It is to no surprise that despite the evidence, Erdogan’s regime and his trusting ally in Washington have refuted this claim despite the endless footage and photos of oil entering Turkey from ISIS held territories. It can only be assumed that Ankara had not considered that Moscow would reveal this murky oil business.

Both Putin and Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov exposed that Erdogan’s family, in particular his son Bilal, are making profits from the stolen oil from ISIS held territories in Syria.

The Defence Minister said: “A united team of criminals and Turkish elites, involved in stealing oil from its neighbors, is acting in the region. This oil is being supplied to Turkey on a large industrial scale via improvised pipelines composed of thousands of oil truck tankers.”

Omran Al-Zoubi, Syrian Information Minister, said to RIA Novosti that Erdogan seeked revenged for the Russian airstrikes that were disrupting the ISIS oil smuggling. Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya says that it was also reported that over a hundred oil tankers belonged to the Turkish Bayrak Company owned by Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law that was appointed Turkey’s energy and natural resource minister by Prime Minister Davutoglu after the Turkish general elections on November 1, 2015.

Iran has not been hiding from revealing this dirty oil trade between ISIS and Turkey. “If the government of Turkey is not informed of Daesh [derogatory term for IS] oil trade in the country, we are ready to put the information at its disposal,” Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezaie as saying on Friday. “Soon important news will be brought to the information of the public about the removal of Takfiris (extremists) and Daesh (ISIS).”

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said: “We know it’s happening but the details are deliberately opaque. When oil is being bought on the Turkish border it’s highly unlikely that it will be sold anywhere else but Turkey. There are indications that oil is smuggled in movable containers and sold to state interests.”

So despite the vast economic loss from Russian business that Turkey now faces because of its aggression, Erdogan would have never anticipated that Russia would have revealed its ISIS oil trade. In turn, Moscow has only ramped up its attack on ISIS oil convoys.

Russia Today reported on 16 December that Russian jets also destroyed a large number of illegal oil facilities in Syria in one day. More than 100 tanker trucks belonging to terrorists have been destroyed by Russian airstrikes. Large convoys of tanker trucks were hit in Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor regions in northeastern and eastern Syria.

There have been reports that American pilots in Syria have supposedly ‘flown over oil tanker convoys 4 lanes wide at times and been told to stay silent.’ If this allegation proves true, this would be a serious crime.

However, even ignoring this fact, it is known that Russia’s outlook on the Syrian War situation is at odds with that of the United States. The United States are in an aggressive pivot to remove anti-imperialistic leaders who are hostile to Washington. This serves to only control the vital resources found across North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. American military bases have begun to pop up across these regions to protect its geopolitical interests in this region, maintain the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency (Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein endeavoured to move away from trading in US Dollars), and potentially carve up the Middle East into micro States like seen with the Gulf Monarchies that are easier to manage and more sympathetic. This would only serve to the interests of the Military Industrial Complex with the blessing by the banks, multinational corporations and most importantly, weapon manufacturers. Turkey has served as a willing puppet to these American ambitions.

The allegations of the Turkey and ISIS oil trade continued on 17 December with Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin saying that the majority of ISIS oil goes to Turkey facilitating an average of $1.5 million profit every day. He continues by saying that: “They cross the borders freely and establish direct contacts with the leaders of the ISIL and agree on deals.” He continues by accusing Turkish companies Serii in Konya and Sam Otomotiv in Antakya as being the main facilitators of supplying ISIS.

With the failure of Saudi, Turkish, Qatari and American supported Islamists in toppling the Assad government; America has taken a different approach to Syria. American Secretary of State, John Kerry, said during his visit to Moscow where he spoke for hours with Putin that “the United States and its partners are not seeking regime change in Syria.” This statement shocked the world as Washington has been a vocal advocate for the removal of Assad since uprisings against him began in 2011. However, often overlooked is where he said ‘and its partners’. It is not known whether this is to include Turkey where Ankara has taken a lead and consistent role in trying to topple the legitimate government in Damascus.

Turkey facilitates the ISIS oil trade that has been exposed by Russia, and openly arms and supports the Army of Conquest with Saudi Arabia. The Army of Conquest rapidly invaded all of Idlib province earlier in the year, beginning its offensive from within Turkey, and with alleged Turkish military help. The only permeating problem with this prospect is that the Army of Conquest is a coalition of terrorist groups mostly made up by Ahrar ash-Sham, a radical Islamist group, and by Al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria, the Al-Nusra Front. Al-Qaeda needs no introduction. Only a minority of the Army of Conquest coalition are made up with supposed ‘moderate’ rebels from the Free Syrian Army.

There is no surprise that since Turkey’s aggression on the Russian jet, Moscow has not faltered or weakened, but rather amped up its airstrike campaign against the Turkish supported Army of Conquest. Since airstrikes began, the Army of Conquest have lost considerable amount of towns and villages to the Syrian Arab Army in southern Aleppo province and Latakia province. Most damning for the terrorist coalition is that they are beginning to lose border regions between Syria and Turkey in Latakia province. This only began with the downing of the jet where Russian airstrikes have taken a lead role in complimenting the Syrian Arab Army, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’ite militia ground forces are slowly retaking border areas. The reclaiming of border areas, just as the Kurdish YPG have done along their areas bordering Turkey, serves to disrupt and hinder Ankara’s support for the terrorist groups in Syria.

It has been demonstrated that Turkey’s rationale for downing the jet was to hope that Russia would stop disrupting Ankara’s effort in toppling Assad and its money making scheme through the ISIS oil trade. However, Erdogan and his clique never learnt from the lessons shown with Russia’s fight against Georgian aggression in South Ossetia, its annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, and its support for rebels in the Donbass War. Putin has shown himself not one to be intimidated by aggression but rather meet the challenge through all means, including economic.

The backlash Turkey has received from its aggression must be questioned. Was a single accused territorial violation of supposedly only 17 seconds warrant the death of a pilot and the destruction of Russian military equipment? Is it also worth the repercussions Turkey has been facing since? It has had major industries affected immensely with the introduction of economic sanctions. It has had its ISIS oil trade exposed. Russian military has expanded in Syria including the powerful S-400 missile system. And it has also had the Army of Conquest, the terrorist group it was hoping to topple Assad, in full retreat in Latakia and southern Aleppo province.

This would suggest that Erdogan and his clique are far removed from the realities of Russian foreign policy. It would not be hard to see with previous examples given, exactly how Moscow would have reacted to Turkish aggression. But once again, despite these setbacks, what Turkey has learned is that NATO, and especially Washington, will continue to support it no matter the gross territorial violations it commits, including fellow NATO members, and support any aggression it makes against Russia too.

Perhaps it can be questioned that Russia’s lack of a military response to Turkish aggression has changed America’s stubborn attitude that Assad must go, to one that the United States is no longer seeking a regime change, knowing that Putin will not falter in the Syrian War or give up to easily. With the United States in economic decline and its military over stretched across the world, maybe it is not prepared to challenge Russia’s ambitions in Syria.


Paul Antonopoulos is currently a Candidate for an MA Degree, writing his dissertation on the Saudi-Iranian Geopolitical Rivalry in the Syrian War.

You can follow him on Twitter.

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